Avalon Creativity – Paris and Normandy’s Landing Beaches River Cruise, day by day

There’s something so magical about the experience of river cruising in Europe and we thought we’d share it with you first hand, with day by day updates from our popular Tour Manager, Colleen Alsberg.  Colleen escorted a group of travelers from Wisconsin and Illinois on an Avalon Waterways River Cruise, hosted by News talk radio 620 WTMJ’s Jim Peck.

River Cruise: Paris and Normandy’s Landing Beaches
Cruise Ship: Avalon Creativity
2-night stay in Paris
April 2012

View over 150 trip photos on Facebook here

 

Colleen’s day by day updates:

Day 1:  Heads are bobbin’ but the WTMJ travelers are in Paris safe and sound! We are anxiously awaiting our cruise on the Avalon Creativity in a couple of hours and hanging out with our resident celebrity, Mr. Jim Peck.

WTMJ Paris & Normandy trip update: I wish you could have seen the faces of the folks in our group as we explored Paris today. They were like kids at an amusement park, oohing and ahhing at the beautiful monuments and buildings, excited to see what was around the next corner and cameras buzzing. We are having a wonderful sunny day. This afternoon we are off to the Louvre or Versaille, the choice was theirs.

WTMJ Vacation Update: As it was our last night in Paris, we gathered on the sundeck and watched the Eifel Tower sparkle and twinkle. What a magical and romantic evening! Paris sure brings out the romance in people. I think there was a little more hand-holding and kissing’ tonight!

WTMJ Vacation Update: We started our trip down the River Seine this morning and what a glorious start. The sun was bright and the sky could not have been bluer! After arriving in Conflans, some of us traveled to Josephine Bonaparte’s Malmaison Palace, while the rest literally walked into a Van Gogh painting in Auvers sur Oise! Back onboard, we enjoyed a lovely classical trio before what everyone thought was the best dinner to date! Ohhh the French delicacies!

WTMJ Vacation Update: We could not have had a more perfect day yesterday! Visiting Monet’s Giverny in the early morning fog gave his lily pond and gardens a mystical feel. Then the sun shone brilliantly on all the gorgeous flowers and his quaint French village. Everyone loves how diverse this trip is. Later back on board we were treated to fresh crepes for lunch, a fun pastry demo at the afternoon tea and then a hilarious Crew Talent Show after another amazing dinner!

WTMJ Vacation Update: We are in Rouen now and enjoyed a lovely walking tour of the old city. Some highlights: stained glass windows in the cathedral dating back to the 13th Century, St. Joan of Arc history and church, the Astrological Clock, Normandy houses dating back to the time of the plague,  and of course, MACAROONS! For a bigger French city it still has a lot of charm! Some of us took the optional tour to the harbor village of Honfleur. So picturesque, it’s no wonder the artists came here….painted, drank a little absinthe, painted some more!

WTMJ Vacation Update: Had a wonderful dinner last night with Jim Peck and 3 lovely ladies in our group (lucky Jim!). He is full of interesting stories and kept us entertained. Today we are off to Normandy.

WTMJ Vacation Update: It’s hard to put in words all the emotions that were felt today as we visited the sites of WWII. From Pointe du Hoc and Omaha Beach where thousands of soldiers lost their lives, to the American Cemetery where they now peacefully lay. This day was very personal for many on our trip. Fathers, Uncles and Brothers were there on D-Day. Many tears fell, especially when they played the National Anthem and Taps in a special ceremony for us Americans on American soil in France.

WTMJ Vacation Update:  Well we’re home and we had a memorable trip!  I can’t wait to escort our future groups on river cruises throughout Europe.  They offer such a diverse and personal look into some of the most treasured parts of Europe.

How to Read Cruise Brochures

Brochure styles vary by each of the cruise lines. Open any cruise brochure and you are sure to find an overwhelming display of information and photographs. Some cruise lines feature their entire fleet of ships with the itineraries in one brochure. Others have brochures for each destination – such as the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, Alaska, Hawaii and Europe.

What you need are just the facts in simple-to-understand terms (of course that’s where a travel agent’s guidance and expertise comes in, especially when you are working with a Master Cruise Counselor who has been on over 30 cruises!! :).

BUT, if you are going to try reading a cruise line brochure for inspiration and ideas, here are some tips and information to consider.

The front of the brochure has the table of contents. Here you’ll also find the illustrations and photos, along with description of the cruise line and the itineraries available in that particular brochure.

Next you will usually find information on any special programs offered such as their kids’ programs. You will also find a quick description of the ports of call and shore excursions offered.  It’s important to be sure the ports of call are going to meet your expectations if the in-destination experience is important to you!  Not all ports are the same. Some offer a wealth of activities, and others cater more towards shoppers, sightseeing, beaches, etc.  It’s important to have an idea of what kind of overall experience you’d like to have beyond the ship before choosing an itinerary.

Deck Plans, staterooms and fares, hotel stays, and past guest programs are usually listed next. A deck plan is a map of the ship that lists all levels of accommodations, shows the location of the restaurants, bars and lounges, swimming pools, fitness center, spa, shops, casino, kids’ center and everything else the ship has to offer.  These are typically color-coordinated and many cruise lines now offer interactive deck maps on their web sites.  These deck maps are also found onboard.

The last few pages of the brochure is where you will find the ‘fine print’. This section usually includes the following information – welcome aboard info, Q-and-A’s, terms and conditions, what you need to know before you go, important policies, and cruise line contact information. Make sure you read it very carefully, or just call your travel agent to walk you through all of the must knows.

The back of the brochure is also where you usually find the information on air and sea programs, cancellation insurance, and any amenity packages offered for your cruise.  Whether flying or driving, we recommend arriving into your port city a day or two early.  Problems can arise (more often than we’d like at times) and you wouldn’t want to miss the ship or start your trip off on the wrong foot.  As always, with cruises especially, we recommend travel insurance.

Trips to Brewers Spring Training and Grand Canyon Tours

Featured Trip:  Brewers Spring Training and the Grand Canyon

March 9-13, 2012

Tavia Vincent, a Fox World Travel Business Travel Specialist in our Corporate Travel Division recently traveled to Arizona and brought back some great insight for our travelers looking to visit the area during Spring Training for Baseball.  Fox World Travel assists travelers in getting to vacation spots worldwide, including many popular domestic locations.  Contact a travel agent if you would like assistance planning your U.S. Vacation!

My family and I are avid Brewers fans so when I heard the spring training games were being played over my kids Spring Break from school I couldn’t resist!  Throw in a one day trip to the Grand Canyon and lots of sunshine and you’ve got yourself a nice long weekend to enjoy!

We flew out of Milwaukee on AirTran non-stop to Phoenix.  The flight was uneventful; however, I will point out this tidbit: AirTran does not have a separate line for checking bags if you have already pre-paid the luggage fee, checked in online and printed your boarding passes.  You must stand in the regular check in line and wait

We stayed at the Residence Inn Phoenix (Apollo 15424).  I chose this hotel for a few reasons; one it was a great price and two, it was only 10 minutes from Maryvale Stadium.  This hotel is set up more like a condo than a hotel.  There are three levels of rooms and no elevators.  The buildings are set in a U shape and in the middle are the pool, sports court, front desk, and dining area.  We had a studio suite that had one queen bed and a sleeper sofa, large kitchen, desk, and bathroom with a separate sink/vanity area from the shower and toilet.  You could tell the hotel had been renovated as it had the newer linens, granite countertops, and new carpet.  Although this hotel is located in a residential area there were plenty of restaurants nearby as well as a grocery store and K-mart for any needed essentials.  The hotel was full and by the looks of it with people attending spring training games.  At breakfast it was amazing to see all the different team apparel!

I was able to get tickets to the game through the Brewer ticket office.  I called the day tickets went on sale and snagged seats 7 rows back from home plate for $22 per person.  What I didn’t take into consideration when I thought I got the deal of the century was that the game we went to was a split squad game and half the team was over in Scottsdale playing another game at the same time.  This left my kids a little sad as they really wanted to see Ryan Braun (and let’s face it, so did I) but they were able to get Jonathan Lucroy’s autograph!  The stadium at Maryvale is a newer facility that reminds me of the Timber Rattler’s stadium.  There really isn’t a bad seat in the house, not even the grass seats!  And as with any sporting event, the concession stands are pricey so be prepared!  This was our first time to a spring training game and I learned a lot.  For those of you that also haven’t had the chance but want to go, here are a few pointers.  The players are on a rotation so if you want to see the whole team ‘play’ you need to attend more than one game.  Two consecutive games is your best bet but make sure that neither of the games are split squad.  The best place to stand for an autograph is section 117.  The players that are not playing that day will generally come out and sign; especially if there are a lot of kids.  Grass seats can be purchased the day of the game so even if you can’t get tickets you can bring a blanket and soak up the sun in the outfield.  If you don’t get enough of the team by going to the games you can go to any of their practices and observe.  The team practices every morning at 9am unless they have a home game that day.  The practice fields are located across the parking lot of the Maryvale Stadium.  There are 5 practice fields and the team plays a ‘game’ at 10am that you can also watch.  There are no fees for parking or observing the practices.

After the game we drove three hours north to Williams, Az.  On the way we stopped off in Flagstaff and on the suggestion of one of our clients and ate at Diablo Burger.  This very tiny joint has earned itself a stamp in the 51 Great Burger joints across America.  All of the food is made from locally grown farmers, including the beef which is 100% grass-fed with no added hormones.  Let me just tell you this burger was so thick you could barely get your mouth around the whole thing!  It was a neat experience but expensive.

I booked a package through the Grand Canyon Railway that included a one night hotel stay, train ride round-trip from Williams to the South Rim, and a motor coach tour upon arrival at the Grand Canyon.  The total cost for my family of four with a travel agent discount was $352.27.  The railway has a hotel right at the depot which provides easy access either before or after your day trip to the canyon.  The depot has a Wild West show before the train departs.  This is cute for the kids, corny for the adults.  The train departs every day at 9am and travels at a whopping 40mph north to the canyon.  I was expecting the train to go faster than that but when we asked our car hostess she informed us the tracks were built back in the 1950’s and can’t handle higher speeds.  The ride takes 2 hours and 15 minutes and there is plenty of entertainment that comes through the cars throughout that time.  The train has a snack car or you are welcome to bring on your own food and drinks.  Upon arrival at the canyon we were directed straight to our motor coach for our tour.  The tour last about an hour and consists of two outer rim view point stops.  Our driver Oscar was very entertaining and informative.  After we returned from the tour we opted for one of the restaurants in the park for lunch.  We waited an hour for our food and ended up have to get it to go.  Needless to say the service is not up to par and I would suggest one of the walk through cafeterias vs. a sit down place unless you have plenty of time on your hands to wait.  The train departs promptly at 330pm to head back to Williams and will leave with or without you…no waiting for missing passengers so you must keep track of time!  Again there were several things to keep you entertained including a special surprise at the end of the ride. (I won’t spoil it)  I would recommend this tour for anyone who wants to see the canyon but doesn’t want to spend days there.  NOTES: This tour does not stop at the location of the south rim where the skywalk is located.  The skywalk is about 40 miles west so if you are one who would dare to walk out on the skywalk this tour will not be for you!  The temperature fluctuates daily at the canyon so check the weather and dress accordingly before you go.  Most often you will need much warmer clothing (pants, jacket, hat).  There are very few railings at the canyon so good walking shoes with traction are a must especially if you go on any of the trails.

There are so many other attractions and things to do in the area that we just didn’t have enough time to get to!  We will definitely go back; and for a longer period of time since none of us wanted to come home!

Where Are the Best National Parks in America?

The United States has some of the most diverse and breathtaking landscapes in the world.  We recommend taking a trip to some of the favorite National Parks in America this summer.  Whether you travel on an escorted tour of America’s parks and hot spots with one of our preferred tour companies who have access to centralized hotels and attractions, or travel independently and work with a travel agent specializing in U.S. Vacations to plan out your itinerary, we are confident you will ensure all that this great country has to offer.

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is without question among the most famous of all national parks. Known for being a must-see tourist attraction in Arizona, the Grand Canyon’s size and dramatic landscape make for an unforgettable experience. The diversity of the Grand Canyon’s landscape is sure to amaze you.  The easily-accessible South Rim section offers breathtaking views and attractions, while a hike to the desolate North Rim makes for a more secluded and quiet experience.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado displays dramatic American landscape, with its alpine lakes and vast forests, set among towering mount peaks. This  area is also best known for its diversity of wildlife. Boasting lush meadows, sheer cliffs and over 355 miles of hiking trails, Rocky Mountain National Park is the perfect location for thrill-seekers and nature-lovers alike.

Yellowstone

Despite its remote location in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, millions of tourists travel to Yellowstone Park to take in the beauty of its majestic peaks, wilderness and abundant wildlife. But the park’s main attractions are definitely its hot springs and geysers, including the world-famous Old Faithful. Fishing, hiking or exploring nature trails are all ideal ways to spend your time in Yellowstone Park.

Everglades

Set alongside Florida’s southern coastline, Everglades National Park is full of biodiversity and considered by UNESCO as a World  Heritage site.  It is the largest subtropical wilderness in the world. Within these vast wetlands are interdependent ecosystems including cypress swamps and mangrove forests. Some more colorful inhabitants include crocodiles, panthers, manatees, as well as over 700 varieties of plants and 300 types of birds.

Death Valley 

Death Valley National Park in California and Nevada is the hottest, driest dessert in the country, with the most expansive national park in the continental United States. Within this landscape are natural attractions, including giant sand dunes, widespread salt flats and a variety of geological wonders. For those who can stand the heat, a trip to Death Valley can be a truly rewarding experience.

Yosemite

Yosemite has been attracting tourists from around the globe with its scenery and countless waterfalls. Several well-known rock formations are scattered throughout Yosemite.

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park runs along over 60 miles of Pacific Coastline beach.  It’s terrain is made up of coastline, snow-capped mountains and undisturbed rainforests.

Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee is the most visited national park in the U.S.  You’ll find hundreds of miles of scenic trails and wildlife throughout the park.  Over 9 million tourists flock to the mountains annually to marvel at the park’s coves, waterfalls and trails, all set against the largest U.S. mountain range east of the Rockies.

Acadia

Located at the tip of Maine, Acadia is set along the Atlantic Ocean and a rare natural treasure of the East Coast. A must visit.

10 Free Things to Do in Las Vegas

Laurie Daul, a Travel Specialist in our Manitowoc, Wisconsin travel agency, has these 10 free things to do in Las Vegas to share with you!  Laurie is one of our Las Vegas Travel Experts and would be happy to assist you in planning a vacation to Las Vegas.

  1. The lion habitat at the MGM Grand. This glassed-in enclosure which opened in 1999 showcases up to 5 lions daily, including descendants of MGM Studios’ famous signature marquee lion. There’s even a transparent tunnel through the habitat. Walk through it if you wish to be surrounded by lions. There is also a cute safari themed gift shop.
  2. New York City. New York New York Hotel & Casino opened in 1997. Outside, a faux Statue of Liberty stretches her torch between palm trees and a Coney Island-style roller coaster that does loop-the-loops in front of faux sky scrapers. Inside, patrons can pretend they’re in the Big Apple, strolling through an art-deco themed interior and a re-creation of Central Park.
  3. Gaze upon the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas. This hotel along with its faux Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe opened in 1999. The tower has legs rooted in the hotel’s giant casino and stretches 50 stories into the Nevada Sky. Beautiful fountains are scattered throughout for another spectacular free activity. If you do want to spend some money, for about $15 you can take the “Eiffel Tower Experience” ride to the 50th story of the tower.
  4. Stroll the streets of Paris As you open the door to Paris Las Vegas and walk through the noisy casino you find yourself ambling down the cobblestone pathways of The City of Light, past French boutiques, street performers and singing bread deliverymen. The ceilings are painted turquoise with billowing clouds and are lit in such a way to trick the eye into believing you are walking the streets of Paris at dusk.
  5. The dancing fountains of Bellagio The Bellagio hotel opened in 1998. Every afternoon and evening the hotel’s manmade turquoise lake becomes the staging ground for a 1,000 foot long fountain display. Watch jets of water burst 240 feet into the air, sweeping and dancing up the lake to the sounds of classical music.
  6. The Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo Las Vegas  This resort is host to a collection of more than 300 birds including a flock of Chilean flamingos. African penguins, swans, ducks, turtles and koi also cavort amid the lush tropical foliage imported from all over the world!
  7. Caesars PalaceStroll to the Forum Shops and watch a seven minute show of special effects as Roman statues come to life.
  8. The flaming volcano at the Mirage Every 15 minutes from 7pm to midnight the Mirage’s faux volcano erupts only a few steps from Las Vegas Boulevard, sending fire 100 feet into the sky and transforming a waterfall into streams of molten lava. Step into the front lobby of the Mirage and check out the enormous aquarium.
  9. Gondola watching at the Venetian  Enjoy watching costumed gondoliers maneuver their elegant wooden boats through the “canals” of the 500,000 square foot shopping mall known as the Grand Canal Shoppes. Watching is free or you can ride for $16 per person.
  10. Fremont Street Downtown Las Vegas A section of the street has been permanently closed off to traffic as a giant overhead screen provides audio and visual entertainment throughout the evening. The street fair atmosphere with vendors and entertainers is quite jovial!!

Why to Book an Avalon Waterways River Cruise

River Cruising is quickly becoming one of the most intimate ways to explore destinations.  Many towns were built along the waterways, so you can only imagine the rich history in these small towns.  As a niche of cruising, river and canal cruises are an increasingly popular option, particularly for travelers who enjoy the comforts and variety of cruising, but want to see more of the heartland of destinations like Europe, Asia, Egypt South America.

To get a better idea of what river cruising is all about, view our Avalon Waterways brochure. Call 888-369-8785 to find out how you can receive travel agency discounts beyond what you’ll find anywhere else!

A Few Reasons to Take a Europe River CruiseWhere to book a river cruise to Europe

  • Sightseeing by Bicycle
  • Fantastic Shore Tours
  • Back Country Exploring
  • You’ll Never Get Bored
  • New Twist on Europe’s Rivers: Luxury Boats – New Ships are Coming Out Each Year, including Avalon Waterways Newest Suite Ships!
  • River Companies Are Increasingly Eco-friendly
  • Great Value: Food, Wine, Education, Tours
  • Boutique Custom Cabins – Unique!

Popular River Cruise Itineraries – Avalon Waterways

  • Romantic Rhine – 8 days Amsterdam to Basel or Zurich to Amsterdam
  • The Legendary Danube – 11 days Prague to Budapest
  • Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches – 8 days Paris to Paris
  • Magnificent Europe – 15 days Amsterdam to Budapest or Budapest to Amsterdam
  • Magical China and the Yangtze River – 11 Days Beiijing, Xi’an, 3-night Yangtze River Cruise, Shanghai

Sample Theme River Cruises – Avalon Waterways

  • Wine River Cruises – Avalon Waterways
    Burgundy and Provence: Departing October 29, 2012
    The Legendary Danube: Departing November 1, 2012
    The Blue Danube Discovery: Departing July 23, 2012
    Windmills, Vineyards & Paris: October 18, 2012
  • European History and Politics River Cruises – Avalon Waterways
    Jewels of Central Europe: July 26, 2012
    The Blue Danube Discovery: July 26, 2012
    Central European Experience: August 2, 2012
  • Art and Impressionist River Cruises – Avalon Waterways
    Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches: October 30, 2012
  • Jewish Heritage River Cruises – Avalon Waterways
    The Blue Danube Discovery: October 29, 2012
  • Music River Cruises – Avalon Waterways
    Burgundy and Provence/Grand France: Jazz Cruise June 25, 2012
    Magnificent Europe: Music Cruise October 24, 2012
  • President’s River Cruises

If you would like to plan an Avalon Waterways River Cruise, our River Cruises travel specialists will be an excellent resource for you!  Many have traveled on river cruises in the past two years and have so much advice to share with travelers.  Call 888-369-8785 to plan your next truly intimate vacation experience on a river boat!

Cruising Style and Types of Cruise Lines

Today’s opportunities for cruising are better than they’ve ever been.  New ships are coming out each year it seems, and the enhancements and new ideas that have come to life on these ships is truly amazing.  We’re talking entire neighborhoods, 3D theaters, boardwalks, new entertainment, top notch dining and more.

As your cruise experts, we’re here to help you find the very best value and sailings to match your personal preferences. Plus, when you reserve your cruise with us, you’ll enjoy exclusive benefits on thousands of sailings such as: exclusive savings, American Express Mariner cruise options, upgrades, shipboard credits, pre-paid gratuities, complimentary shore events and much more.

Call one of our travel specialists today to discover your cruise style!  Below are some of the categories we would classify our cruise partners in:

Ultimate Luxury – Incredible Value All cruise vacations are inherently luxurious, but some are more luxurious than others. The mid-size ships of Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and the small ships of Silversea Cruises and The Yachts of Seaborn, offer itineraries that appeal to people who may have already been there but are looking for new insights. On board, superior service standards ensure that every wish is anticipated and preferences are remembered. The food is gourmet, the spa is exquisite, and all the details are taken care of unobtrusively. Plus the all-inclusiveness of the price, or in the case of Crystal Cruises the very generous “As You Wish” shipboard credit, make these luxurious experiences an incredible value.

Premium Cruises – Traditional Yet Innovative Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises are great examples of “premium cruise lines”, and loyal customers continue to rave about the excellent service and amenities whether sailing aboard the more traditional mid-size ships or the fleets’ larger ships. As the popularity of cruising continues to grow, so does the need for an even broader range of experiences, which has charted the course for new deluxe, or “upper premium,” cruise lines like Oceania Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises. Both emphasize fine food and wine, well-appointed accommodations and personalized service aboard intimate, mid-size ships. They also offer unique itineraries with more overnight stays that allow travelers more time to explore.

Big Ships – They Keep Getting Bigger! It’s the big ships that feature the headline-grabbing innovations like surfing simulators, rock-climbing walls, movies under the stars, ice skating rinks, wave pools and so many choices that it takes a week to visit every restaurant or dining room for dinner! They also feature some new twists on cruise-ship staples such as health spas, libraries and game rooms. These innovations, along with award-winning children’s programs, make the major cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line an ideal choice for a family vacation, group cruise or couples getaway.

Small Ships – Great Things Come In Small Packages River Cruising: For many travelers, the slower pace of river cruising is perfect for getting the lay of the land, most popularly in Europe and Asia. Sitting on the top deck of a ship under brilliant blue skies, you gaze on fables landscapes dotted with castles, villages and vineyards. A flight of stairs down, and you have all the amenities of a fine hotel—restaurants, bars, lounges, fitness facilities, spas, internet access and comfortable staterooms. Avalon Waterways, Uniworld and Viking offer a diverse array of Europe cruise options, but you can also cruise Egypt’s famed Nile, the Mekong River in Vietnam and the Yangtze in China. Many of our most avid cruisers have become devoted fans!